By Jean Echenoz
With the delicacy of a miniaturist and with a sarcasm that's either witty and clear-eyed, Echenoz bargains us an intimate epic: within the landscape of a transparent blue sky, a bi-plane spirals unexpectedly into the floor; a section of shrapnel shears the head off a man’s head as though it have been a soft-boiled egg; we dawdle dreamily in a spring-scented clearing with a lonely shell-shocked soldier jogging innocently towards a firing squad able to shoot him for desertion.
Ultimately, the grace notes of humanity in 1914 upward thrust above the terrors of conflict during this fantastically crafted story that Echenoz tells with discretion, precision, and love.
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Additional info for 1914: A Novel
Clutching his rifle, he himself now felt ready to stab, impale, transfix the slightest obstacle, the bodies of men, of animals, tree trunks, whatever might present itself: a fleeting state of mind yet absolute, blind, excluding all others, but in the event the opportunity never arose. He continued to advance with all the others, laboriously, without lingering over the details, but the ground thus gained did not remain that way for long: the company had to withdraw almost immediately, since their position was not tenable without reinforcements that did not arrive.
The men seemed excited, on edge in the heat, turning to call to one another, gesturing broadly but with seeming confidence. Anthime dropped off his bicycle at home before joining the general movement now flowing in from every direction toward the main square, where a smiling crowd milled around waving bottles and flags, gesticulating, dashing about, leaving barely enough space for the horse-drawn vehicles already arriving laden with passengers. Everyone appeared well pleased with the mobilization in a hubbub of feverish debates, hearty laughter, hymns, fanfares, and patriotic exclamations punctuated by the neighing of horses.
So they’re aloft, keeping their eyes open, when another mosquito shows up way behind the Farman on the left, a new and almost imperceptible insect that neither Sèze nor Noblès notices at first and which, as they have done, will grow bigger and clearer. Wooden framework covered with canvas and adorned with the Maltese cross on the wings, rudder, and the wheels of the landing gear, a fuselage of duralumin: it’s an Aviatik biplane making a beeline toward the Farman that leaves little doubt as to its intentions, particularly since as it draws nearer, Charles Sèze spots an infantry rifle protruding from its cockpit and aimed unmistakably his way, upon which he immediately warns Noblès.
1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz